Guest Post by Andrew Rivas
I feel the need to state, as with everything that I write, that I have no bias towards any particular game system, game company, game publisher or game. I write from a neutral standpoint, as a Gamer, and if I happen to mention any flaws of a particular item, it doesn’t mean I’m a fanboy of the competitor’s product. It means that while I do see the pros, I also see the cons. I write from experience, as I’ve played the game (unless otherwise stated), and I’m not just spewing nonsensical biased garbage.
I never went to arcades as a kid. I certainly never fed quarters in to a slot to play Donkey Kong or Pac-Man. I have, for that matter, never even seen an actual gaming arcade. I wasn’t alive during the birth of home gaming, and I did not grow up with an Atari or a Colecovision. But I still call myself a Gamer (notice the capitalized G). I call myself a Gamer because I enjoy videogames. I have an open mind about every aspect of gaming; I don’t bash a product just because it’s from a specific company, or because it’s of a certain genre. I like to evaluate everything on an equal playing field.
And since I did grow up with a Nintendo and a Super Nintendo (my sister owned one while I owned the other), I think I am definitely more reliable a source of the evolution of gaming than an 8 year old who plays Halo 2 on Xbox Live. Anyone whose first system was a current-gen product (whether it be Xbox, PS2 or even a Game Boy Micro) is definitely deprived, and cannot truly call themselves a Gamer unless they are aware of the console’s predecessors, and the impact those predecessors had on the games they are playing right now. And again, in that respect, I am definitely a Gamer.
Gaming…has evolved, like everything evolves. Literature has evolved: Compare Dante’s Inferno with Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Film has evolved: Compare Charlie Chaplin to Brad Pitt. And gaming has definitely evolved: Notice a difference between Burger Time and Project Gotham Racing 3? It’s not just graphics—gameplay has changed, attitudes towards gaming from non-Gamers have as well, and the emergence of “casual” Gamers is significant to the state of gaming.
One thing I don’t think I’ll miss is how I used to be made fun of for being a Gamer. While I never was any of the stereotypes that are commonly attributed to Gamers, I was probably accused of having them all at one point or another. I have been accused of living in my mother’s basement (even though I was 15 at the time, and I had a bedroom on the second floor). I have been accused of being a pimply-faced nerd (though I will not deny the nerd claim, my complexion was fairly clear at the time). And I have definitely have been accused of being completely inept around girls (and while I am not as charming as I’d like to believe, I don’t shit myself every time there’s a female in the vicinity—I can definitely hold my own). This was believed of all Gamers at some point or another, but we held our heads up and continued gaming. What they didn’t understand is that gaming is a hobby, as is reading or playing a sport.
But when did gaming become part of the mainstream? I can’t point out any specific time period when the transition occurred, but I can point to a specific event: the unveiling of the Xbox 360 on MTV. First of all, it was on MTV. There was not a Gamer in sight, just a bunch of models and celebrities. (Although actually, Elijah Wood may be a Gamer. He’s a geek, anyway; that’s where his charm lies.) A model who has never so much as seen a game in her life walked down a runway with a 360 in a silver briefcase. After it was unveiled, The Killers played. The Killers are a terrible band that really have nothing at all to do with gaming. Did we see any playable demos? Did we see any target videos? We saw around two minutes of fleeting gameplay, and then a few songs performed by The Killers. Then a few more songs. Then Xzibit. I just watched a half hour of MTV that could have been any other MTV show, with about two minutes of X360 footage that I could have streamed off of my computer. Thank you, Microsoft!
Then we have Pimp My Ride and Cribs, where people incorporate gaming into every aspect of their cars and homes, but probably do not play them for more than 20 minutes in their lives. Put an Xbox into the dashboard of your car! Have 12 PS2s in every room of your house so people can see how much you can afford! Please. None of them are Gamers. I don’t know how they think that pretending to be a true Gamer will boost their popularity (it’s not something that anybody tried to do when I was a kid), and no one really believes it, aside from all the prepubescent girls watching TRL.
There’s one last point I want to make on this subject, probably the hardest hitting of them all: I have seen pictures of Paris Hilton carrying around an Xbox 360, almost as an accessory. She has an Xbox 360. She will never open it, I guarantee you. She will probably let her dogs shit on it. Some Gamer, who has been playing games his whole life, probably waited outside of an EB Games for 20 hours to get one, and was denied one just so Paris Hilton can use it to gain three fans who are stupid enough to think she’s cool because she has an Xbox 360. Shame shame, gaming industry.
But not every change is bad. Games used to be limited to the most simplistic stories imaginable, ‘cept for the earliest RPGs. Save the princess! Destroy all the spaceships! Bounce the white pixel back and forth! Now, we finally see real stories being incorporated in to games, stories good enough to be in a best-selling book or a blockbuster movie. Ever play a game just to see how the story pans out? Ever gasp in wonder, or in fright? Ever start to hate the villain, or love the heroes? Any one else cry at the end of Final Fantasy VII? I know I can’t be the only one.
And most recently, how games are played is changing. Nintendo seems to be the most noticeable in this field, with the DS and the Revolution. Even if you don’t like the hardware or games themselves, you can’t hate them for trying. But hardware is not all that innovation is limited too. New concepts are being used that never would have been done a decade ago. Guitar Hero. Katamari Damacy. Ico. These games are fun, and they are changing the way we play. Remember the flood of platformers and first-person shooters released after the rise of 3D gaming? Oh yes, I remember. They were all the same. And I’ll never forget. But games like Metal Gear Solid come close to helping me forget.
I have one thing that I really need to say: Cinematics ruin gaming. Sometimes, it has to happen—Metal Gear Solid wouldn’t be the same without the epic storyline, and that wouldn’t be possible without all the cutscenes. But games that use cinematics as a pretty way to show off graphics are ruining their games.
You guys know of a game called Half-Life? Or Half-Life 2, its really incredible sequel? The thing that both of these games did right is they keep you immersed the whole way through. Ever beat a boss battle that triggered a cutscene, and then sat back in your chair, mentally exhausted, knowing you were safe and you didn’t have to do anything else for a while? It takes you out of the game. You might go to the bathroom, or get something to eat, because the video that just interrupted your game reminded you that that’s what you’re doing: playing a game. Especially in games that are in the first-person; most of the time, you immerse yourself fully into the game. You actually are that person for a short while, fearing for their life, sympathizing with their plight. A third-person cinematic completely negates that feeling.
But in Half-Life 2 (a truly revolutionary game if there ever was one, at least as a franchise) never took me out of the action. If I took down a strider with a rocket-launcher, I never sat back in my seat or put my controller down. What if there was another one around the corner? What if there was a combine ready to rappel into the building I was in? I was full of adrenaline for the 10 hours or so I played the game: I was Gordon Freeman. I knew what Gordon Freeman knew, because I was never taken out of character. I wasn’t given a cutscene to explain why I did something, or one explaining what to do. And by the end, I was severely disappointed that Valve didn’t make the game longer. Even though they put a cliffhanger at the end, it was an enjoyable one. Better than Han Solo in carbonite at the end of Empire Strikes back, (and certainly better than just an excuse to end the game without actually providing a full storyline (*coughHalo2cough*).
Game developers and advertising are extremely different than they were two decades ago. There weren’t any TV spots or theatrical trailers for games, no developer’s diaries or developer interviews. They thought of one thing: Is the game going to be fun? Now we have companies copying existing successful franchises just to make a quick buck: Can you name half a dozen GTA clones? I sure can! We have game companies that care solely about money (hey EA, I’m talking to you!). We have people who make games that don’t care about the Gamers. We also have developers that care solely about the Gamers, and don’t care so much about money: companies that put out budget titles are certainly a good example. But they’re in the minority.
So what did we learn today, kiddies? Not a lot? Oh, well, that hurts my feelings. I’ll just summarize it for you.
First of all, buy those sleeper hits. It makes me sad that Beyond Good & Evil didn’t get the recognition it deserves. Buy all those titles that encourage innovation. Let the game developers know that’s what we want. They keep making all those shitty games because you keep buying them! Why did they make 50 Cent: Bulletproof? 25 to Life? All those Pokemon games? Why did they ever make a Mario Sunshine? Because they knew you’d buy it.
Second of all, stay away from those blockbuster titles that are actually very poorly made games in disguise. If a game was as revolutionary as the commercial suggests, why’d they spend millions of dollars advertising it? The gameplay itself would rake in game sales, or it should, if its as good as they’re saying.
Third, please don’t watch MTV. Or G4. G4 started out with good intentions, but it’s quickly becoming what MTV is to music. I think this is a good time to plug the 1up show (although I swear, they don’t pay me to say this). It’s everything that G4 should be: a show about games, by Gamers. It’s simply too great not to watch: It has a really great sense of humor, and they really know a lot about games. It’s over at 1up.com.
Lastly, keep playing those video games, people. And have fun doing it. Don’t just sit in your desolate living room and play Xbox Live all day; invite other people over your house and have a LAN. Share the gaming experience. Try to convert as many non-Gamers as you can. And please, don’t kill your parents with a copy of GTA in your hands. We have a bad enough reputation already. In fact, don’t kill them at all! Play some Counter-Strike, and take your frustration out on pixels instead of people. Trust me, you’ll feel a lot better.